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Sun Rising…

Moon has risen.

Some gather preparing for battle.

Others gather praying for peace.

Shall I stand with you?

Shall I stand against you?

Shall I stand silently watching?

Sun rising…

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Emptiness

One understands.

No thing needed.

One does not.

No thing suffices.

Beneath the Bho.

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Moussavi’s words, “We demand the unconditional enactment of the constitution and the return of the Islamic Republic to its original ethical foundations. We demand an Islamic Republic, not a word more, and not a word less,” have been echoed by the protestors in Iran since the questionable elections in June, 2009. Over time as disillusionment has manifested itself within the protest movement the demand has evolved into “Iranian Republic, not a word more, and not a word less.” Obviously, these two statements describe factionalization within the protest movement. On the one hand are those who still hope for and believe in refolution the idea that the Islamic Republic can redeem itself given the right leadership. On the other hand are those who believe that the current regime is beyond redemption. That its ills can only be corrected through the complete and utter change of a revolution.

Thinking that the current situation in Iran is defined by these two oppositions viewpoints is dangerously myopic. No, I am not referring to the danger that the regime presents to the movement, nor am I referring to fragmentation due to those who favor return of the monarchy or any of the other opposition political groups. No, what I am calling dangerous is ignoring the desires and feelings of the common Irani, the workaday people more interested in raising their families in peace and security than in political activism.

Who am I to say what the common Irani citizen wants? I’m an American born and bred. Nevertheless, I believe most of the people in Iran are like most of the people in the USA. They are more concerned with providing the necessities of life to their children and themselves than with who is running their country at the moment – so long as that leadership is not endangering them.

Watching the videos of protests posted on the internet I have been struck by the appearance of people who obviously were not part of the protest nor part of the government forces against the protestors. Simply people who happened to be in the ‘wrong place at the wrong time’ hurrying to escape from the confusion and avoid being identified with the protestors. Other videos recording simple, day to day life in Tehran and other cities reveal that, for the most people, life goes on as usual. They go to work, come home, walk in the parks, go for ice cream, have birthday parties, attend to their parents’ needs… ordinary folk going about ordinary activities. These are the people who, I believe, represent the hopes, dreams and aspirations of Iran… but what do they want?

It’s all too easy to listen to the voices of the students and protestors in the streets chanting, “Marg bar dictator”, and come to the conclusion that only complete rejection of the Islamic Republic can create a peaceful, prosperous and secure future for Iran. All too easy and fraught with the danger of more bloodshed in the streets and even the potential of creating a civil war with all its ‘collateral damage’ to be born by innocent bystanders.

It’s also all too easy to listen to the voices of the reformers who think that a simple change of Presidency in Iran will result in creating an Islamic paradise on Earth where human rights will be respected, judiciaries will judge fairly, people speak without fear of retribution and the Supreme Leader will provide enlightened guidance not only on spiritual and moral matters but also on national and international affairs.

What do I feel, personally, with regard to these two positions? Does that even matter? More importantly… what does the common Irani think of these alternatives? It is, after all, the common Irani that must live with the choice, not you nor I. Is there a middle-ground between an Islamic Theocracy and a secular Iranian Republic? Could it be an enlightened Islamic Republic as envisioned by the idealists of the 70’s before it was subverted by Khomenei, his henchmen and their successors? Is there another path? Perhaps a secular democracy acknowledging the spiritual and moral guidance of the ayatollas?

Only the common people of Iran can answer those questions. I am not qualified to speak for them. I am only qualified to express my personal points of view… what I feel and what I hope for the Irani.

Peace! That is my “not a word more, and not a word less”.

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Faces in a Crowd

We have all seen them… the faces of protestors, police, curious bystanders, Basij milita and those just simply caught up in the recent protests in Iran. For the most part we see the faces of the protestors in videos and still shots. Almost without exception the protestors look determined and dedicated to a cause they believe in. Occasionally an individual looks as if he or she is just along for the ride… the adrenalin rush… but these are very much in the minority. What of the others we see in the videos? What do the expressions in their faces tell us? This is harder to ascertain since, with exception of police and Basiji, they are not as easily seen. The faces of curious bystanders and those simply caught up in actions in which they are unintentional participants are typically not what the photographer or videographer focussed on. Nevertheless, their faces are present and they tell a story.

Let me start with the police. There are innumerable videos and still shots that clearly show their expressions. In the faces of most of the police I see little more than intent to perform their duty. Oftentimes expressionless their focus on what is demanded of them masks what they may be feeling inside. Sometimes you will see what appears to be the expression of an internal conflict between devotion to duty no matter how distasteful and what they perceive to be an injustice which they have no choice but to perpetrate. Apparent in many of the videos is the exhaustion and frustration the police experience.

The Basij, no matter what you think of them, exhibit an interesting range of expressions. Yes, you do see the animalistic ogres amongst them but they are not the ones I find interesting even in a morbid sense. No… the ones I find more intriguing are the faces of the middle-aged veterans of the Iran-Iraq war juxtaposed with the faces of the younger Basij that have been brought in to reinforce them. The faces of the veteran Basij mostly tell me of their determination to fight against what they perceive to be Satanic forces. Most telling is the expression on the face of one individual I saw in a 13 Aban video. This individual was a middle-aged Basij and the expression on his face and in his body language as he walked across a street through a crowd of protestors can only be described as… totally disgusted! No, he did not look like a brainwashed automaton… he had the appearance of an experienced and responsible person called to perform his civic duty in service to a land and society he loves.

The younger Basij, as my eyes interpret them, seem to fall into two groups. First are those for whom being a Basij is a badge of honor. In all likelihood the only position in which they achieve a degree of recognition and what they perceive to be respect. The second group appear consumed by their desire to avenge themselves against those they see as undeserving, disobedient children of the upper class. For the young Basij the unrest is, I believe, more the reflection of a class conflict than a desire to preserve the Islamic Republic. Their religious training allows them to justify their actions if and/or when they reflect on them. They see the protestors as fighting “against God” therefore deserving of any punishment that can be inflicted on them. Despite this justification I believe deep down they are expressing their resentment of those who belong to a more privileged class.

People unintentionally caught up in the protests usually tend to avert their faces when they realize they may be caught on camera. You see them trying to rush through or break free of the crowd of protestors as quickly as they can. Fear is evident in some of the faces briefly visible and obvious in their body language. Whether they agree with the aims of the protestors or the governments attempts to control them is beside the point. These are people who simply wish to be allowed to get on with their daily lives. Some may resent the disruptions but, I suspect, most are antipathetic to either side. They just want the security of a peaceful, predictable daily routine to their lives.

Then there are those onlookers you see watching the protestors and watching the government forces. Many are supporters of the protestors who choose not to demonstrate visibly themselves. Others seem satisfied with the status quo and look mystified that anyone would wish to protest against it. Still others appear disengaged from either camp but obviously interested… as if they are taking time to give careful consideration to what they are witnessing. And, as usual, there are those few who are simply morbidly curious.

There is a common element in all the faces in the protest videos and stills. Their humanity and their belief, nay conviction, that the respective roles they have chosen or had thrust upon them are all correct and that they, each and every one, is acting in accordance with good faith and prudence. It will do no good for the Sea of Green to see the opposition as faceless enemies. They must, instead, seek out and embrace compassion and respect for those who oppose them. If they fail to do this they also fail to win over the hearts, minds and souls of those they sorely need to stand with them in this time of turmoil.

As usual with anything I write this is all just my opinion. I claim no academic credentials or extraordinary insight. I do, however, feel compelled to put what I feel deeply into words rather than let them gnaw away at my psyche.

Michael Hebert aka hawaiianbear

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An Alternate Universe

Recent security-related problems that some of my friends on Twitter have experienced have caused me to re-examine my choice of operating system. My computer came with Windows Vista Home Basic which I found to be a stable platform for virtually all my needs until… I became active on Twitter. In order to keep my system clean I have had to install several PC security programs. Currently I have…

Web of Trust – This is a free plugin for Mozilla Firefox. It rates all URLs you may visit based on their reliability. Is it a spamming site, a phishing site, does it want to install questionable scripts or software? If other users have raised suspicions about the site a large warning dialog will pop open in the middle of your screen. From this dialog you can view the site’s rating, proceed to the site anyway or simply cancel your visit to that URL. An excellent addition that I would recommend to any Firefox user.

Web of Trust is available at:

http://www.mywot.com/

The Shield Deluxe 2009 – This is a realtime heuristics based antivirus program that scans all incoming files for potential problems. It can also be used to scan and analyse your hard drive for viruses, trojans, etc. The Shield Deluxe 2009 is a commercial package. I enrolled for a 2 year subscription for $59.95.

You can download a feature-limited version for CNet at this URL:

http://download.cnet.com/The-Shield-Deluxe-2010/3000-2239_4-10716264.html

Advanced System Care – Another virus scanner available as a free program or as a combination virus scanner and system optimizer which runs at intervals throughout the day. It cleans up the system registry, removes browsing history and does various other system optimization tasks on each pass. The free version does not include system optimization but does include a very good virus scanner. The registered version (only $19.95) enables all the features. A very good program, in my opinion.

You can download Advanced System Care from IoBit here:

http://www.iobit.com/advancedwindowscareper.html

Spybot Search and Destroy – Spybot has been around for a long, long time earning an excellent reputation for finding trojans, keylogger, rootkits and other nasties that some of the other programs miss. It is still free and even though it doesn’t run in realtime I consider it an essential tool in the Windows repertoire.

Other programs I have tried are…

AVG Free – Similar to The Shield Deluxe 2009 in that it performs a heuristics based realtime scan of incoming files whether from the web or any other source. I tried the free version but found it ran too slowly on my system. Web pages were sluggish to open, system dialog windows suffered delays in opening, etc. This may simply be related to my system as AVG Free does have a very good reputation. You can try it for yourself at:

http://free.avg.com/us-en/homepage

Malwarebytes – Like Spybot Search and Destroy this is not a realtime scanner. It also has a very good reputation for ferreting out hard to detect trojans, keyloggers, rootkits and the like. On my system it tended to be unstable and much slower in operation than claims made for it. Compared to the other scanning software I used it only found one registry entry (which was empty) that was not found by the others. If you want to check it out on your system it’s available at:

http://www.malwarebytes.org/mbam.php

With all this good antivirus, popup blocking, antiphishing, trojan fighting, keylogger detecting, rootkit eradicating stuff you would think I would be happy… NOT!! It has turned my formerly quick Windows Vista system into a “click and go make a cup of tea” sluggard! Too many programs vying for CPU cycles? Maybe, but each of them has strong points that make up for capabilites lacking in the others. I could disable or de-install them but only at the risk of opening up my Windows Vista system to a host of nasty stuff waiting to tunnel their way in from the Web.

What to do? What to do? Why not try something different? Microsoft Windows may rule as the most widely used operating system in this universe but there are other universes freely open to explore without buying a different computer. So I decided to give the Linux system another try after several years of avoiding it.

Linux has earned a well-deserved reputation for being a hacker’s or computer geek’s operating system. When I tried it several years ago it was beginning to become civilized… something the average PC user could understand and make use of. In particular the appearance of Ubuntu on the Linux scene moved Linux out of the realm of mysterious command lines and kludgy user interfaces. Ubuntu was poised to make Linux a serious contender in the home computer marketplace except… it was still more difficult to use than Windows except for rather mundane daily tasks, checking email, writing letters, browsing the Web and the like. Software for many other tasks was available but tended to be hard to install and kludgy in appearance, operation or both.

That was yesterday. Ubuntu has grown up! The release of Ubuntu 9.10 (aka Karmic Koala) on 31 October 2009 has changed all that. Ubuntu now comes not only with a stable and virtually virus-proof operating system it is loaded with real software. The superb Firefox 3.5 is the default web browser. Need compatibility with Microsoft Office files or the ability to create PDF documents? The full OpenOffice suite is standard. Want to watch or create DVDs or CDs? It’s in there. Need to manage your time and appointments? It’s also in there and just one click away in the desktop or any window. Like to use AIM or other chat applications? No need to look for an application because access to all the common chat programs is on your taskbar. Like to work with photos and other graphics? Organizing your photo and graphic files is included. There is no Photoshop equivalent but you may find the included GImp image editor does all you need.

In short… Ubuntu is well worth the time to download an ISO image, burn it to CD  then give it a try. You can run it from the CD or install it within Windows to create a dual-boot system. At bootup you have option of running your existing Windows OS or booting into Ubuntu.

How long will it take to do all this? About an hour or a little more for the download, burning the CD and running the installation. Your Windows system and software will remain undisturbed. You will need 17GB of free space on your hard drive for installation. Of this about 5GB is used for Ubuntu OS and programs leaving approximately 12GB free for storage.

Where do you go for Ubuntu? At Ubuntu of course:

http://www.ubuntu.com/

What can you expect? A very clean, uncluttered desktop, quick access to programs organized into logical categories, equally quick access to your file system again pre-organized into logical categories and, once again, quick access to system settings and preferences organized in a clear and intuitive manner.

You will probably also notice that bootup time is reduced, applications open quicker and just a generally ‘snappier’ feel when operating. Most important of all (at least in my case) is…

You don’t need all that anti-virus software clogging up and slowing down your computer. Why? It’s all about the inherent security something called “Permissions”. Rather than stumble through a description here, read the article on the Linux website at this address:

http://www.linux.com/news/software/applications/8261-note-to-new-linux-users-no-antivirus-needed

Still… if you run a dual-boot system and/or share files with users of virus prone computers you might consider adding some additional protection for those you share files with. Ubuntu has some recommendations for compatible antivirus software which you can find at:

https://help.ubuntu.com/community/Antivirus

I have not tried any of these packages yet since the built-in protections of the Linux OS, Firefox and Web of Trust (yes, WOT is compatible) seems adequate to me.

Since on my prime goals was to continue my chosen way of accessing and contributing to the #iranelection hashtag on Twitter I considered it absolutely essential to access both Twitter and Twitterfall on separate tabs in Firefox PLUS have Tweetdeck running in a separate window. I could not do this in Ubuntu 9.04 (the previous distribution) but am very happy to report that it runs without a hitch with Ubuntu 9.10. Absolutely no problems with the auto-installation of Adobe Air that Tweetdeck employs.

Am I happy in my Alternate Universe? In a word, YES!!

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